~ Colliding Edges ~
by J.W. Heart
For disclaimers see Part 1.
Special thanks to Tea for her continuing effort as my beta reader.
All comments, questions, and concerns for my mental health can be directed to...email@example.com
Gypsy Passion and Celtic Soul
"What the…!" Mika watched dumbfounded as her gorgeous stalker slumped forward. She quickly rushed over, pulling the woman into her arms to keep her from hitting the ground. "Well now what am I gonna do?"
Well, just a thought here, but…try waking her up. The voice recommended.
She moved slightly to make the prone woman more comfortable, the dark head in her arms. "Hey," she spoke softly trying to rouse the taller woman. Taking a moment to study the relaxed face of her stalker, noting the high cheekbone, perfectly sculpted nose, stubborn chin, and full lips. Beautiful. She gently brushed a lock of long dark hair away, feeling warm skin against her fingertips. So soft. She shook the woman gently " Come on now, time to wake up," hoping to coax a response. Blue eyes fluttered for a second then opened.
Disoriented Erin lay still trying to get her bearings. Her consciousness returned slowly and she started to take in her surroundings. Where am I? Looking up a midnight sky full of stars and suddenly aware of a soft, warm body holding her she turned quickly and met the bright green eyes of the little gypsy. Oh My God! Her mind shrieked, as the events of the past moments came rushing back to her.
Mika observed the brilliant blue eyes open and focus and the woman in her lap went from confusion to shock in a matter of seconds. She felt the trim body in her arms grow rigid as the woman realized where she was. "Welcome back," she said cheerfully adding a teasing grin.
Erin scrambled out of the smaller woman's embrace, and tried to stand however moving so quickly brought about another spell of dizziness and she felt the world start to tilt again. This time she was held upright by strong hands wrapped around her waist.
"Easy there stretch," Mika chuckled slightly. "Not that I mind beautiful women swooning at my feet but I think once is enough," she teased, while guiding the unsteady woman back to her seat.
The comment registered in Erin's befuddled mind and embarrassment quickly turned to outrage. " O' all the arrogant …" She sputtered. Did she say I was beautiful? She shook her head to clear the thought. "Ya can let go o' me now," her voice stern as she quickly moved away from Mika's steadying embrace. Erin nervously ran her hands over her clothing trying to smooth away the lingering sensation left behind by strong hands.
Mika grinned at the sudden fire in the dark woman and stepped back to give the beauty some space. "Since you don't seem to be hurt can we get back to my original question?" she smirked.
Erin glanced down at the blond, little rogue and her breath caught in her chest. Having only seen the gypsy at a distance she was shocked by the true beauty before her. Golden hair tapered to end just above strong shoulders with a sweet, innocent face and small slightly upturned nose. Full pouting lips and dancing green eyes completed the vision. Erin knew that in her young life she had never seen anything as lovely and stood memorizing every feature.
Growing impatient with the silence Mika started again. "Okay let's start with something simple. How about a name? You do have one of those right?" her voice laced with a hint of sarcasm.
Erin shook herself from her revelry "Ah…aye," nervously clearing her throat. "I 'ave a name but I see na' reason ta give it ta ya," she hadn't planned on being difficult but something about the small woman's attitude made her temper rise.
What is that about? Pretty testy for a stalker isn't she? Why the anger at me? I didn't follow her most of the night and then pass out at her feet. She snorted.
Could be that you're acting like a jerk, her minds voice supplied.
I am not! Oh fine, she said relenting, I'll try this a different way.
Mika took deep breath and began again. "My name is Mika," offering her hand.
Erin looked at the woman and smirked. "I knew ya 'ad a bit o' civility in ya somewhere," taking the proffered hand in hers. "My name is Erin," She grinned.
Not sure whether to be offended or amused Mika chose the later and laughing she shook the woman's hand. "Now that we know I do have manors. Perhaps you can tell me why you've been following me all night?"
"I do'na know what yer talkin' about," Erin lied. She can'na 'ave known I was there all night? Can she?
Mika snorted at the blatant lie. "Look you've been watching me since I left the man who's purse I so graciously returned," she gave the dark woman a smug look. Thought you were smart did you.
"Ha! A purse ya would'na 'ave 'ad ta return 'ad ya na' stolen it in the first place," Erin snapped. Quickly realizing her mistake she blushed and looked away from the young gypsy.
Mika noted the redness of the woman's cheeks and grinned wider. God she's even more beautiful when she does that. "Alright it's obvious you were following me, you know it and I know it. It's a sure thing you aren't going to turn me in so why not tell me what you thought you were doing," hoping to keep her tone light and ease the woman's embarrassment.
" 'Ow do ya know I will'na turn ya o'er ta the guards?" Erin replied. Why are ya baiting 'er like this, ya do'na know if she could be violent. Just tell 'er the truth. She glanced at the smaller woman and saw a slight frown playing over the edges of her lips. Taking a deep breath she continued. "Yer right, I 'ave no intentions o' throwin' ya ta the guards," slender shoulders slumped a bit as she began to relate part of her tale. "I'm na' from 'ere ya see."
"Ya don't say". Mika said sarcastically.
"Do ya wanna hear this or na'? Erin countered angrily.
"Sorry, I'll be quiet," God she makes me feel like a misbehaved child.
Well…the voice offered mockingly.
Oh shut up!
"I do'na know why I chose ta follow ya and that's the truth. But I saw what ya 'ad done with the man's purse and I know ya gave a bit o' coin to the boy fer helping ya. I was...curious," Erin shrugged. "If ya knew I was there why na' confront me earlier?" she whispered.
Mika raised her head and looked into the woman's eyes. "I thought about it. Then once I figured out what you'd seen and that you were still there and hadn't run off to the guards. Well, I decided to have some fun with you," she grinned wickedly.
Shock registered across Erin's face. "Ya...ya…ya did all that. The flowers, the other purses, all o' it just ta 'ave fun with me, just ta see if I would stay and watch? Are ya daft woman?" Her outrage was clearly visible.
Mika laughed at Erin's outburst. "There are those who would say I was a bit daft yes. But I didn't expect you to run off so soon," she added.
Erin blushed again thinking about why she had left the small blonde at the pub. "It din'na seem proper ta be watchin' ya in such an ummm…private moment," she managed to strangle out.
"Well, I guess there's something to be said for propriety. But the performance was for your benefit, you should have stuck around, you might have learned a thing or two," Mika grunted and turned to walk down the alleyway.
My benefit? What does she mean by that. I 'ave nothing ta learn from the likes o' 'er. Erin thought indignantly. Then suddenly realized she was standing alone with no real knowledge of how to get back to the castle. Taking a deep breath she buried her pride and took off after the infuriating little gypsy.
Mika wondered if the beautiful woman would be following again and didn't have to wait long before she heard footsteps fast approaching.
"Ummm...excuse me?" Erin said gently touching the smaller woman's shoulder.
Mika turned and crossed her arms over her chest. "Yes?" quirking a blonde eyebrow in question.
Swallowing back her embarrassment. "In all the runnin' around I've done tonight it seems I've ummm…I've lost my way home," her face reddened again and she suddenly found the ground of great interest.
Mika threw up her hands in exasperation. "You can't be serious?" You've spent all night trailing around after me and now …now…you want me to help you get home?" looking over at Erin and seeing a flash of pain in her soft blue eyes before she again looked at her feet trying to hide from Mika's outburst. I can't believe I'm doing this. Swiping her hand over her face and taking a deep breath. "Okay, which way did you come from?" she asked. Erin raised her dark head looking in wonder at Mika, she gave the little gypsy a wide genuine grin that reached her beautiful eyes and lit Mika's world up as bright as day.
That's why you're doing this. The voice chortled.
Erin took Mika's hand in her own. "Thank ya, yer the only other person I know in this place. I was sure I would 'ave ta ask one of the guards and that would'na 'ave been a blessin' fer me,"
"You don't exactly know me either but I'll help you," Mika grudgingly replied.
"I know enough," Erin smirked at the little blonde and caused Mika a very rare blush.
"Alright, which way?" Noticing that Erin had not yet let go of her hand, If she's not going to I know I'm not.
"Oh well I…ummm…came from o'er by the castle gates,"
Mika looked at Erin with a puzzled expression. "There are no Inns or camps over by the castle," then a flash of memory ripped through her brain and her eyes widened in recognition. She dropped Erin's hand and stepped back staring intently at the woman. "It was you," the dark beauty looked at her, confused. "I've seen you; in a carriage on the road into the city. Your Dev be damned guards about ran me down to clear the path for your precious carriage," she hissed at the bewildered woman.
The memory of fiery green eyes played through Erin's mind and she broke out laughing. Mika grew angrier by the second as the tall woman was about doubled over with laughter.
"I fail to see where that's funny."
"I'm sorry," Erin snorted and then fell back into a fit of more laughter. She could see Mika was not as amused by the memory as she was. "I'm sorry, but…ya fell in the mud," she again fell out laughing. It took her a few moments to regain herself. "I know ya probably din'na find that at all amusing. I do remember ya now," she tried to contain her amusement as she recalled the little spitfire covered in mud and fighting mad.
Slowly Mika started to smile at the memory of her covered in filth, imagining what a sight she must have been. The smile soon turned to laughter and the two women were both lost in their merriment.
Finally Mika gained some control. "Well at least I wasn't hurt and I see you made it to the castle just fine," shrugging casually. Erin's laughter faded abruptly and she ducked her head as slight melancholy washed over her beautiful face. Mika reached out a gentle hand and raised the beautiful face to meet her. She saw blue eyes bright with unshed tears causing her heart to seize in her chest. "Hey now, what's this about?" she asked wiping the tears away.
Erin studied the bright green orbs for a minute and saw only true compassion reflected back. The tenderness she received from this woman, who by all rights should not even be speaking with her, was overwhelming. A gut-wrenching sob broke free from her chest and she flew into the arms of a very surprised Mika.
Stunned Mika could do nothing but wrap her arms around the weeping woman and hold her while she cried out the emotions that seemed to torment her. "Shhhhhhh... Now princess," she cooed, rocking the woman like a child. "Nothing is as bad as all that. Come on now, look at me," her voice gentle still, as Erin's sobs quieted. Erin raised her head to meet a sweetly smiling Mika and taking soft cloth from inside her vest, Mika wiped away the remaining tears.
Erin pulled away and looked around nervously. "I din'na mean ta break down on ya like that. I'm sorry. Ya must think me a very odd woman. It's been a very trying few days," her voice barely a whisper.
"Well princess you can tell me about these trying days as I get you back to the castle," Mika said as she stood and brushed herself off and then offered a hand to Erin.
Erin allowed Mika to help her to her feet and after righting herself, looked sternly at the smaller woman. "I am na' a princess," she growled and walked on ahead.
The little blonde watched her walk away graceful and elegant with her back straight and proud, you could be. And she ran to catch up with the beautiful noblewoman. Mika led them through the narrow alleys going slower than was necessary for some reason loath to be rid of the stunning woman just yet.
She's getting to you. The voice snorted.
No she isn't, she's just. …………Interesting. What kind of noblewoman wanders out among the peasants of their own free will? Mika justified.
Why don't you ask her? The voice prodded.
"Hey princess are you going to tell me how it is you ended up out here. Shouldn't you be attending some big fancy party or something?"
"I asked ya na' to call me that," Erin growled.
"It suits you," Mika waved off Erin's irritation. "Come on, the way I see it, I provided you an evening of entertainment the least you can do is tell me what brought you out here," sneaking a quick peek at her companion to see if she would be getting a response. Erin brushed away another tear. Damn, what did they do to her there?
Why would anyone hurt someone as gentle as her? The voice said with a sigh.
No kidding. Mika murmured.
Did we just agree? The voice asked.
No! Mika's mind shouted.
I didn't think so. The voice huffed.
She really 'as done nothin' but be kind ta me. It's na' like she's goin' ta tell anyone I was 'ere, even if she did they would'na believe 'er. With that decided she took Mika by the hand and led her to one of the food stands that were still open at this late hour. "I 'ave na' eaten yet this eve and I know you 'avent either," her tone was almost scolding. "I 'ave a few coins so fer yer kindness with me I'll buy ya some dinner. Then we can sit and if ya still feel like hearin' my tale, I'll tell ya."
Never one to turn down a free meal, Mika complied, and once they had their supper, head off to a clearing by one of the stages to eat. They sat in silence for a few minutes; Mika looked over at the noblewoman and raised an eyebrow waiting for the promised story.
Erin sighed and started her tale. She spoke of her Da and the request from the king. Adding her reluctance to make the journey, not wanting to be a pawn in some marriage scheme just so the King could have stronger ties to Ireland. She went on telling Mika of Shea and her outlandish behavior with the young guardsman on the trip to the castle causing both women to laugh. She related her meeting with Milly and Pippa; a revelation coming to her as she spoke of the buxom maid, making her blush. A fair-haired gypsy? Erin pieced together that it must have been her little gypsy. Valiantly ignoring the stab of jealousy that sliced through her with that thought. Mika nudged her, prompting her to continue. She then told of her treatment by the Princess and the other noblewomen.
"They did what?" Mika cried out, her face flushed in anger. Jumping to her feet she began pacing. "Of all the snobbish, narrow-minded, idiotic things…" she ranted. "I cant believe that she just gets to say whatever she feels, hurts whoever she wants to just because she happened to be born. It's not right Erin, you didn't deserve to be treated like that," Mika's words came faster and her eyes glowing with the passionate fire of indignation for Erin's predicament.
Erin looked on in awe at the young woman who stood ranting before her. Feeling an unbelievable warmth spread through her body as she realized that Mika was outraged on her behalf. All that passion and fire is fer me. Surprised at the young woman's vehement defense for her. Erin took in the wild fire dancing in Mika's green eyes and wind blown golden locks shining in the moonlight. My God she's gorgeous when she's like this. Erin thought as she fought to control the sudden fever in her own body. Finally standing on trembling knees she placed a halting hand on Mika's shoulder bringing the smaller woman around to face her. "Thank ya," she whispered.
Mika looked at Erin's bright eyes and grateful smile. Damn she is getting to me. She smiled shyly back at the noblewoman and blushed prettily. "I guess I got kind of carried away huh?" she asked timidly.
"It's alright, kind o' nice 'aving someone care enough ta be angered on my behalf." Erin whispered. Hoping Mika really did care and not at all sure what she felt for the little gypsy herself.
"You know princess, those harpies don't have a thing on you. You know what? They're nothing but jealous. That's right," she told the dark woman. "They aren't near as pretty and not near as liked and it pis…I mean, it makes them mad." Got to watch the cursing here Mika girl, she's a lady after all.
Erin blushed at the compliments, wanting nothing more then to wrap this little wonder in her arms and hold on for dear life. What are you thinking lass? Ya best figure out where all these feelin's are coming from and end it soon. Ya might wind up embarrassin' yerself.
"So you ran away from the castle tonight to get away from all that huh? Aren't you going to be missed?"
Realization dawned in Erin's eyes. "Oh My!" She exclaimed. "Shea's probably 'aving a whole litter o' kittens as we speak," she jumped back and started off in the way she thought was right.
"Ummm princess? It's that way," Mika pointed towards the castle.
Erin abruptly stopped and turned in the proper direction walking right past a laughing Mika. She threw a glance back over her shoulder. "Are ya comin' or na'?" Mika shrugged and ran to catch up with her.
They walked the rest of the distance chatting amiably about little things, neither wanting to plunge into anything deep. Both feeling more between them then they could identify and thinking it best to leave those thoughts alone…for now. Once they got within sight of the servants entrance to the castle they stopped.
"This is the end of the road for me princess. I have to say, while nothing happened tonight like I had planned. I'm glad you followed me tonight," Mika said with a rakish grin.
"Ya know my friend, I'm glad I did ta. Even though ya are a rogue," she winked.
Mika laughed. "Yes well… Its part of my charm."
Erin turned to go into the castle leaving Mika feeling suddenly bereft and cold, like an icy hand had reached out and grabbed her heart. "Erin?"
The tall woman turned and quickly walked back to the little gypsy. Looking for something but not knowing what. "Yes?" she said breathlessly.
"If you were to say...need another escape from all the sniping ninnies," the little blonde started shyly while looking down at her boot as she scuffed the ground. "I would probably be at the Romany stages tomorrow night say, around dusk. If you were to look for me that is," she added hastily.
She's so adorable. Erin was almost giddy at the thought of seeing the young woman again. "I think if Shea does'na kill me tonight, I may just need ta...escape again," she grinned wickedly. "Goodnight. ……Rogue," Erin laughed as she ran to the door.
"Goodnight………..Princess," Mika called after her. Watching as Erin entered the castle, she turned and walked off into the night back to her own camp, whistling happily.
Erin slipped quietly through the servant's entrance moving in the shadows, hoping not to be noticed. She had made it to the door of the kitchen when a harsh command stopped her progress.
"Hold right there Lady McGorry!" Harold James demanded. He rushed to the very still Erin standing in front of the tall woman. "Do you know the trouble you've caused this evening? Your Aunt is frantic with worry about you young lady," sounding very much likes a concerned parent, which caused Erin to smile at the small man. "Don't you smile at me Erin McGorry, do you know what a terror that woman can be?" Erin tried not to laugh as she imagined the torment Shea had put this man through over the last several hours. The older man sighed. "I know I have no right to berate you for your actions M'Lady, but you've endeared yourself to those of us here and I would be lying if I didn't say you had me worried as well child."
Erin now feeling a bit repentant for her disappearance hung her head. "I'm truly sorry fer worryin' ya Harold. I was just needin' some time to myself. I'll take care o' Shea," she tried to smother her grin.
"That woman is a demon," he threw his hands in the air. "She wouldn't let me call on the guards to find you, determined to go out and look for you herself, till I got Milly to stay with her. It's just a good thing you got yourself back here, I don't know how much longer we could keep your absence quiet."
Erin was relieved to know they had not reported her missing or sent the guards to look for her. Findin' me with the little gypsy would'na 'ave been good fer 'er or me. "I guess ya best take me ta Shea before she walks a hole in the floor."
"So right," he led her up the stairs, stopping them outside the door he turned to the young noblewoman. "Erin…I know those little harpies have been hurtful to you and for that I'm sorry. But you should know that what you did today will not come back on you. King Edmund has better things to do then listen to his spoiled child's petty squabbles," pausing, he smiled gently. "But if you take off like this again, Lady or no, I'll turn you over my knee and paddle your behind," a hint of humor flashed in his eyes. Laughing Erin surprised the man by kissing his cheek causing him to blush brightly. "Alright, enough of that. Get yourself in there and calm that woman down."
Erin watched him make his way back along the corridor, then turned to the door and taking a deep breath entered to face the she demon she kindly thought of as Shea.
Shea stopped her pacing when she heard the door open. Turning to face her errant niece with her face flushed and blue eyes darkened with rage. "Where in the devil 'ave ya been!" she roared.
Milly dove for the nearest dark corner and waited to see if she would be needed to stop Shea from killing her young niece. Having listened to the fiery redhead most of the evening, describe the tortures she would inflict on Erin; she thought it best to see if they would indeed be needing any blooded cleaned from the floor.
Quietly closing the door, Erin made her way to the small table past a cringing Milly. She flashed the worried woman a quick smile and a wink and then poured herself a bit of cider; settling down for what was sure to be a long and loud tirade.
Shea continued her pacing keeping her eyes glued to Erin's seated form. "Out all night, not a word ta anyone where ya were! Leavin' everyone ta worry if ya had been kidnapped or worse! What were ya thinking girl?" blasting her, much too calm, niece.
Erin knew better then to try and answer, Shea was nowhere near finished with her ranting. So she sat quietly sipping her cider and waited for her enraged Aunt to continue.
"I'll na' even tell ya the gray hairs ya 'ave caused me tonight. Poor Harold 'as been beside 'imself and tried ta call out the guard on yer sorry behind. But would I let 'im do that? …No! She's a smart lass I told 'im. She would'na take off and get 'erself into trouble. Wherever she's gotten ta, ya can bet she's fine. Ya are fine, right?" halting in her ranting to inquire and looked to her niece expectantly. Erin nodded trying to keep a smile from forming on her lips. "O' course yer fine, it's the rest o' us that's been turned inside out with yer disappearin' like that," Shea was unrelenting in her admonishment. "I know them little bitches got yer dander up and hurt ya with their callous tauntin' but ya 'ad no cause ta run out like that leavin' me ta think the worst."
Erin felt a tinge of guilt for leaving her Aunt to worry. Next time I'll make sure she knows I left so she does'na worry. Is there going ta be a next time? Erin thought of dancing green eyes, a gentle teasing manor and felt her body grow warm. Yes, there's going ta be a next time, she smiled.
Shea saw a ghost of a smile play across her beautiful niece's lips and the far off look in her eyes. Oh ho! Lassie, and what did ya find out there on yer little adventure that's causin' that glow in yer cheeks, huh? Shaking her head at the thoughts playing in her mind. The girl looks almost...smitten. With dawning realization she drew in a sharp breath. Oh No!
"Erin," Shea's soft voice bringing the woman out of her musings. She watched the dark head come up to meet her gaze; the blue eyes still dreamy and clouded. Oh this can'na be good. "Ya do know ya were wrong ta go off like that, right?" again Erin nodded. "And yer na' goin ta be doin' it again?" her voice hopeful but was answered only by Erin's silent stare.
Erin didn't want to lie but she knew she would be leaving again to meet her little blonde friend. "I can'na promise ya that Shea, please do'na ask it o' me," her eyes pleading with Shea to understand. I do'na understand myself but I need ta see 'er again.
Shea rolled her eyes; she knew that keeping Erin in place now was a lost cause. Whatever she thinks she's found she's not likely to give up easily. Please God don't let 'er do anythin' foolish. Like fall in love, she pleaded with no one in particular.
"I think ya should be getting yerself ta bed Erin McGorry. We'll be discussing this again in the mornin'."
Erin rose from her seat and wrapping her slender arms around the woman she loved so dearly. "I'm sorry fer worryin ya Shea," gathering herself together she left for her own chambers.
After watching her niece leave the room Shea slid into a chair and dropped her head into her hands. "Oh God Milly! She's na' goin ta listen, this is goin ta happen again. I can see it in 'er face."
Milly ventured out of her hiding spot then placed a comforting hand on the elder McGorry's shoulder. "Maybe we can all find a way to keep her busy enough that the pressures here won't force her to run again," she offered hopefully.
"Nay Milly," she stood and wandered to the window. Peering out into the darkness she whispered, "Whatever she found out there tonight, she won't be givin' up on easily. Tis' the first time I've seen her truly relaxed and happy since we've come 'ere."
Milly walked up behind the elegant lady. "What can you do when your little ones find their hearts being pulled in directions?"
"This is all 'er Father's fault ya know," Shea huffed, causing Milly to laugh. "Nay tis' true! The man 'as always given that girl free reign o'er 'er romantic notions. And now 'ere we are about ta be bittin' in the arse fer 'is indulgence. And where is 'e? Tucked safely in 'is castle miles away, leavin me ta deal with 'is pining offspring," the noblewoman complained.
"Maybe it's not what you're thinking Shea. Maybe just being free from dealing with all this is what you're seeing," but Milly had seen Erin's face, she knew there was more then just a taste of freedom responsible for the girl's renewed spirit.
"Nice try Milly", Shea sighed deeply and then turned to the woman who had become her friend over the last few hours. "She's goin' ta make good 'er escape again, we both know that. She all but told me she would'na be stayin' put. What we need ta do is figure away ta keep 'er safe when she does and na' let anyone else find out about 'er forays outside o' this castle."
"You're just going to let her walk out of here again?" completely shocked at Shea's new attitude.
"Not only going ta let 'er but I'm goin to give 'er every chance ta slip away. Oh doncha be worryin Milly dear," she grinned wickedly. "She'll na' be goin alone. I'll be needin someone ya trust ta follow our lass about ta keep an eye on 'er and o' course so they can tell me just what or …….who… it is that 'as my niece actin' in this manor," With her arm slung across the shoulders of the maid, the two of them proceeded to plan for Erin's next outing into the city.
Very few people remaining on the main market square as Mika wandered slowly through the alleys between the now closed booths. The moon casting a bright glow about and soft music drifting on the wind and her thoughts were focused solely on the dark Irish Lady. I can't believe I just spent an entire night leading that woman on a wild goose chase. What the hell is wrong with me? Slightly disgusted by her actions. And then …and then, I ended up walking her back to the palace. She threw up her hand in exasperation. To the palace mind you. Where the guards live. . What was I thinking?
It's not what you were thinking but what you were thinking with, snickered the annoying voice that had taken residence in her head
Mika stopped in her tracks while that thought wrapped itself around her brain. Hell, the woman threw herself into my arms. If I'd been thinking about her that way, I could have taken the advantage right then.
Why didn't you? the voice responded.
She …..she…..oh Bloody Hell! I don't know.
Face it, she got to you, the irritating voice laughed.
The laughing continued to echo through her mind as the world started to spin. All the booths and stages in the square faded away. The stars shining brightly in the sky, spun wildly until they all blurred together. Her breath became labored and gasping and Mika stumbled to lean against a nearby tree. She slid lowly to the dewy grass as her knees became weak and gave out. Closing her eyes she brought it all to a grinding halt, as brilliant blue eyes glittering in the moonlight flashed through her mind. The scent of jasmine lingering on her clothing filled her senses and the memory of a soft warm body snuggled in her arms was burned onto her skin. By Dev what just happened here?
Panic attack, the voice supplied.
Oh come on! What do I have to panic about?
That she got to you, it stated calmly.
She didn't get to me. I …I…I must be tired. Yea! That's it I'm tired.
Uh huh…..you're panicked because ….she got to you, It taunted.
Getting her emotions under control she started off again. She worked vehemently to suppress the feelings that threatened to come flooding back. God, what's wrong with me?
She got to you The voice said matter of factly.
Would you shut up! She did not get to me; I must be getting sick or something. Yea that's it. Got to be close to my monthly time. That explains all this feeling stuff, almost happy at the thought.
No, that ended just a week ago. She got to you. The voice stated.
She did not. She couldn't get to me. She's annoying.
Beautiful. The voice countered.
She's a spoiled little rich girl.
Sensitive. The voice shot back.
An innocent babe, who's playing at being a grown up.
Refreshing. The voice rejoined.
She's a stalker. She replied triumphantly.
Curious and intelligent and sweet and ………… the voice listed.
She's…she's…to tall! Mika blurted out.
Since when would making a climb like that, bother you, the voice snorted.
"Oh Shut Up!" Mika demanded.
"Excuse me young lady!" Mala stood in her path angered by her daughter's disrespectful address.
Looking up Mika saw her Mother standing not 5 feet from her. Oh God! She thinks I was talking to her. She turned around and grinned sheepishly at her Mother. "Ummmmm..I didn't see you there Daj. What are you still doing up?" hoping to distract her.
"You didn't see me? Mikalya I was standing right here, you walked right by me. Exactly whom were you talkin to?" Mika opened her mouth to speak "Never mind," Mala waved her off. "I want to know where you've been. Have you been out drinking again?" stepping closer to the little blonde, she sniffed seeing if she could catch the smell of alcohol.
"Daj!" Mika pulled back from her Mother. "No, I haven't had a drop I swear," Boy I wish I had though.
Think that would erase a certain blue-eyed Irish woman from your thoughts? The voice quipped.
The lithe figure of the noblewoman flashed in her mind bringing about a soft smile.
Mala stood back observing her daughter; taking in the dreamy smile cross her lips and noting the hazed look in her eyes. What have you been doing my little one? What are those thoughts about? Or rather..who?
"Mikayla," she called snapping her fingers to bring her fair-haired child out of her dreams. Mala decided whatever had held her wayward child's attention this evening couldn't have been all bad. At least she's not drunk and half dressed this time. "It's late little one. You're Nano wanted to speak with you earlier. Maybe you should find him and see what the big lug wants before you turn in huh?" She suggested, wrapping her arms around her young daughter, giving her a heart felt hug.
Mika returned the embrace and kissed her Mother on the cheek. "Okay Daj," and turned to find her Nano. Stopping quickly she called to her mother's departing back. "Daj, I'm sorry for worrying you."
"My, my, will wonders never cease," Mala chuckled. Yes little one whatever's happened to you, I think I like it.
Mika found both her Nano's at the animal pens. She slid up between the tall, handsome men and grinned sweetly. "Daj, tells me you were looking for me earlier. Well…here I am," she said brightly.
"All sober and properly clothed too. I'm impressed," Luca teased, reminding her of her state this past morning.
"Ah yes!" Corwin joined in "What's the matter brat? Couldn't find anyone that would have anything to do with you tonight?" A teasing smile playing across his lips.
"Oh come on guys. One time I come home drunk. "
"And half dressed."
"I was dressed……….mostly," she grinned wickedly. "Am I going to spend the rest of my life hearing about it?"
"Yes!" they shouted.
"At least until you do something else we can torture you with," Luca amended.
"Fine! So what did you want to see me about?" Hoping for a subject change.
"Seems our great Kapo has gotten us a bit of real honest work while we're here," Luca gestured to his older brother.
"Honest?" Mika raised an inquiring brow.
"Yes! Honest. It's not so hard to believe is it? Look…the palace commander found me today while we were setting up the stages. Of course I thought we were going to be asked to leave nicely, before they threw us out. But no…he wanted to talk about our horses," the big man smiled
"What about our horses?"
I'm getting there little one," laughing at her impatience. "Seems they underestimated the amount of nobles who would be joining in the festivities and have come up short of adequate mounts for the people who wish to ride. Even if they had the amount needed they wouldn't have the space to keep them all or the proper care for the animals."
"So what? They what to use our horses so these rich snobs have something to do for entertainment? You can't tell me they didn't plan for this Nano."
"This castle was to be nothing but a summer place Mika," Corwin explained. "There was no planning of extra stables when it was built. Not having enough mounts was just an oversight. One that could be to our benefit if you would just listen," trying to calm his fuming niece. "Now the deal I worked out is pretty simple. We stay ……unmolested by the city guards, to do our own business. In return we provide decent horses to the nobles who want them. For a small fee of course."
"Well I am Romany little one, after I expounded the virtues of true Romany trained horses the fee became something I think we can all live with," he winked. "He knew that even the best of his mounts would never compare to the poorest we had to offer."
"Well that sounds simple enough and profitable. But it's to simple Nano, what else do they want?"
"Ha! That's what I said," Luca snorted.
"Well………" Corwin began, suddenly finding his feet of interest.
"See I knew there was more to this then just providing horses. What's the catch Nano?" Mika prodded impatiently.
Corwin sighed deeply knowing this next part was not going to be received well by either his brother or his niece since it would effect them the most. "Our best handlers have to take the horses to the palace every morning and help the nobles choose the mounts and get the tack set for them," he rushed out.
"What!" Both Mika and Luca shouted in outrage.
"And gather them again in the evening," the Kapo added.
"Have you lost your mind brother? You want us to walk, sweet as you please, into the castle gates every morning and play up to those rich snobs? I must be going deaf because I could have sworn that's what I heard you say," Luca raged.
Mika was about to start her own tirade when the voice commented.
Hmmm… wouldn't that be a safe way to see a certain beautiful dark Lady? We wouldn't want her to get into any more trouble would we? You could keep an eye on her this way. The voice chimed.
The young blonde smiled at the idea of seeing the Lady Erin without sneaking around.
"Okay," she told them, both of the dark Romany men looked at her as if her head was on fire. "What?" she asked innocently. "It's a good plan, we need the money and there is no one better than Luca and I to handle the horses," Corwin stood with his jaws agape and she had to laugh at his shocked expression.
Corwin was truly shocked. That was far too easy. He shook himself from his stupor and eyed his niece warily. She's up to something, he concluded. Still looking at his cunning little niece, he continued.
"Ummm well, that's one," turning to his brother. "So what about it Luca, are you going to go along with this or do I have to let Mika beat you until you give in."
Luca was still staring at his niece in utter shock at her agreement with this plan. He nodded his head slightly "Sure," he consented absently.
Mika suddenly found herself tired, not having had much sleep the night before and the long day today had taken it out of her. "Well gentlemen if that's all I think I'm going to head off to bed. Just let me know when we're starting this arrangement and I'll be there," she kissed each of them in turn and left the pens, leaving the two men staring after her.
They watched her go and then turned to each other still at a loss for what they had heard. "She's up to something," Corwin told his younger brother.
" Yup," Luca agreed shaking his head.
Erin rose rather late in the morning her mind still lingering over her adventures the day before, and more than once catching herself thinking about the bold little gypsy. Completely in awe of her fearlessness and bravado she marveled at the beautiful blonde's ability to convince anyone of whatever she wanted them to believe. Her dreams had been filled with the sound of husky laughter and bright green eyes sparkling with mirth and mischief. Of windswept, blonde hair shimmering in moonlight and rakish grins that heated her blood, seeped through her body and caused a fluttering in her center. She remembered waking from her dreams feeling hot and flushed and just a little confused. It was with sheer determination that she managed to push past those thoughts and get on with her day at all.
Once ready, Erin steeled herself to face her Aunt, who she was sure would be ready and waiting to begin another lecture about her behavior. She entered the sitting room she shared with Shea, and was surprised to find both Milly and Pippa already in attendance. She met the women with a bright smile, which promptly faded when she saw the grim looks on their faces. Oh Lord now what?
Shea, who was standing at the window, turned to face her errant young niece. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and she stood with her head raised and brow arched, a look of contemplation on her lovely face. The redhead thrust her chin pointing to the table indicating that Erin should take a seat. We're being sent home! The thought of leaving made her chest ache. I would 'ave begged ta be sent home before yesterday. Now…now… Oh God …not now, she uttered a silent plea.
Shea watched as Erin made her way to the table and fell into a chair. She noticed the almost panicked look on the girl's face a defeated slump to her shoulders and the usually bright blue eyes were clouded and downcast. Ya know she's thinking yer goin ta be 'aving to leave after what she done ta the Princess yesterday. It's a cruel thing ta just let the poor lass suffer like this. Her mind chided. Oh but she needs ta suffer a bit fer what she put me through last night. Na' ta mention the scolding I just took from the Queen 'erself on the child's behalf.
"Lady Shea, I know my daughter can be a bit...difficult. I dare say it's her Father's fault, he's done nothing but spoil the girl. It was in fact, at his insistence that we include Erin in Fay's court. At the time I didn't understand why but when he told me of Aidan's wish to refine the girl's education I could hardly refuse," the Queen explained.
Shea was livid. I've been up half the night worryin about that child and now I'm here listenin' ta this old bat make excuses fer that little bitch o' 'er's. Refine the girl's education my arse! Aidan never said a thing like that, he wouldn't know refinement if it jumped up and bit 'im. While she seethed internally her demeanor was one of absolute respect and she smiled sweetly at the Queen.
"Now I know we can't force our girl's to get along. Fay has made it quite clear she couldn't possibly spend time with Erin and that bereaves her I assure you. So to make the best of this situation I've asked that Erin be relieved of her duties as part of Fay's court. However, Edward insists that she must attend certain functions. I'll have Harold compile a list of events she must attend and we'll try to put this whole ugly business behind us. After all, we only want what's best for Erin and a scandal would limit her choices to make a good match. I'm sure you understand," the Queen finished with false sincerity.
"Thank ya yer Majesty. I believe we 'ave an understandin'," Shea stood to leave, once again bowing to the Queen. Understanding my sweet arse! A pit full o' vipers 'as more compassion. Make a good match! Ha! Not while I'm around ya vicious, backstabbing harpy.
King Edward's private chambers...
"Well my boy I've made sure you'll get a chance with young Erin. I don't need to stress to you how important it is you get her to agree to this union," King Edward stated.
"No Your Highness, I'm aware of the need but why not just give her to me. Surely it would be easier than making me actually woo this heathen?"
Edward frowned at the young man. "Lord Aidan would never allow that, for some damned reason he granted Erin the right to wed for love not gain."
"Shows how stupid the Irish can be," the dark man sneered. "Women are not nor should they be free to choose anything. They don't have the intelligence for it."
Edward's frown deepened at the harsh words and he hoped that his choice for Erin's mate was not going to lead the girl to harm. He had sensed before in the young man, a certain cold distance but had never heard him speak with such distain. In any case Chester Hunt was a loyal man and Edward knew that with him as heir to McGorry Glen that he would have the support he needed to back down any rebellious attempts made by the natives. "Just cement this union Hunt, we need a strong tie to Ireland and this is it."
"It will be done Sire you need not worry about that," Hunt assured and left the King to his business. Once outside the door he laughed. Oh Erin McGorry will be mine, one way or another. He walked off with an evil gleam in his eyes and a wicked plan forming in his mind.
"Are Milly and Pippa to help us pack then?" Erin couldn't control the quivering in her voice.
Shea looked at the two maids and winked. "Nay they are na 'ere fer that. Would it be so bad if we were to leave this place lass?" Shea inquired curiously. "It was'na but two days ago ya would 'ave leapt from the carriage 'ad it slowed down enough, just ta avoid bein' 'ere," her gentle teasing causing both Milly and Pippa to laugh.
Erin smiled tightly. "I…I...want ta bring no shame ta Da". Na' entirely a lie.
"Oh it's shamin' yer Da that 'as ya so down then is it? Well never mind that, 'e would na' be ashamed o' ya fer helping that poor child," Shea smiled, she knew her niece was not being completely truthful and wanted to drag out the torture just a bit further. She calmly poured them both some tea and then offered the pot to Milly, who now also sat at the table. "Erin, I know yer sittin' 'ere wondering if we're being asked ta leave. I also know there's more ta yer reluctance ta do just that, then na' wantin' ta shame yer Da," Erin opened her mouth to speak but Shea cut her off with the wave of a hand. "Wait! I do'na want to hear half-truths so save yer breath," the fiery redhead warned. "All yer needin' ta know is that we're na' leavin, fer which I suspect yer grateful. I'll 'ave ya know, ya little trouble maker, that I was called ta see the Queen 'erself this morn. Ta say the least she was 'na happy about yer treatment o' the Princess. But she's also na' pleased with the Princess either. Seems the girl's been givin them naught but troubles since they arrived," Shea smirked.
"So am I ta just continue.." Erin began again being cut off by her aunt.
"Nay, yer na' ta 'ave anythin ta do with Princess Fay from 'ere on. But we are guests o' the King so yer expected ta be in attendance at certain functions."
"What functions?" Erin hoped they wouldn't interfere with the time she wanted to spend with the young gypsy.
"Milly and Pippa 'ere 'ave a list o' things ya need ta attend and some other activities that may be o' interest ta ya," Shea patted the young woman's shoulder. Besides if I know what yer doin at least part o' the time then so much the better to keep an eye on ya.
Milly stood up and came around Erin's side and laid out a list of events that Erin would be required to attend. "Look here child," the maid pointed to the list. "There's to be a ball after the tournaments and a formal dinner in just three days. "Of course you are going to have to be at both of those along with some of the events of the tournament itself. Those are the biggest concerns for you."
Pippa jumped up excitedly "There's other things. The Queen is having a social tea you might want to be at with all those eligible men running around you know," she laughed and winked at Erin.
Erin smiled politely at the young woman. Great, just what I wanted, a chance to be paraded around like a prize broodmare. "What else is planned?" hoping to cut the girl's excitement short.
"Well, there will the hunt, but you cant be a part of that and of course there's riding."
"Riding?" Erin started to feel a bit of excitement at the thought of getting outside the city gates. Maybe I could get Mika to join me. The thought brought a smile to her face.
Milly interrupted the younger maid's excited rambling. "No, they didn't have enough proper horses for the gentler nobles to use so there wont be any riding," smiling sadly at the now abashed Erin.
"Oh Milly, you should listen to the gossip more. They made a deal with that clan of Gypsies," the young woman said wiggling her brow suggestively.
Erin felt her face flush and her stomach tighten at the implication behind the gesture. If she thinks she'll be getting any further with my…The anger behind that thought rocked her as she realized she was jealous. I 'ave no right ta be feelin' jealous o'er what the little rogue does with others. I just want to be 'er friend. But even the thought of her little golden gypsy with another left her cold. Damn! What's wrong with me?
Pippa grinned and launched into the tale about how they had made a deal with the Gypsy clan to supply horses for the nobles. "We don't have the space here to keep more mounts so they will be bringing by a few every morning for those who wish to ride."
"The guards are going to allow a band of thieves and rogues inside the palace gates everyday?" Milly sputtered in outrage.
"Oh Milly," Shea laughed. "I'm sure it will'na be as bad as all that. The commander would'na 'ave made such a deal if 'e thought there'd be trouble. Besides it could be kind o' fun watchin all these noble snobs round 'ere 'ave ta take direction from these gypsies."
Erin laughed at the skeptical look Milly shot at Shea and inside she was shouting for joy. Yes! I wonder if Mika is going ta be delivering the horses…Oh please please please! She prayed to any God listening. Now I really 'ave ta get out ta see 'er tonight. She couldn't help the grin that spread over her face.
Shea saw the grin form and the mischievous glint in her niece's eyes. Oh I really hope that's there because yer goin ta get a chance ta ride young lady. The redhead observed her niece a bit longer. Nope, yer up ta something aren't ya little one. Guess I'll be seein' if Milly's found me someone ta watch this brat when she takes off tonight.
Erin sat oblivious to her aunt's musings as she plotted her escape and ignored everything else the women said as they continued to talk about the upcoming events.
Mika woke early, which was an unusual occurrence for the little blonde. She had been jolted from her slumber by the sound of her own passionate moans and lingering memories of raven hair brushing over her bare skin. She had dreamt of heated caresses and sweat slick bodies sliding together in an erotic dance, of deep searing kisses and breathless sounds of passion. She groaned in frustration and her body pulsing with unreleased tension. Giving up on sleeping any longer, she dressed quietly and left to work off some energy in the pens. She spent a good portion of the morning mucking out the pens and laying down new bedding. Hoping to rid herself of the reminiscence of the dreams that had plagued her sleep.
I haven't even known this woman long enough to have her invade my dreams like that.
You've never known anyone long enough to have those dreams period, the ever present voice chimed in.
My point exactly! No one has ever caused this reaction before and I'm not going to let it start now.
Oh yea you're having a lot of success controlling all this, the voice snickered.
Hey I can control this, it's just a matter of focus.
Luca's tall broad form came lumbering toward her. He looked at his young niece still in shock over her agreement with his brother's plan to supply horses to the noble and even further dismayed over her presence in the stock pens at such an early hour.
"Are you sick little one?"
"Looks like you've done all my work for me today. Trying to make up for selling me out with Corwin?" He teased. Mika just glared at the jovial man. Oh someone is grumpy this morning. He cleared his throat "Hey little bit, why don't we take a break here and get some breakfast?" Hoping to lighten her mood, knowing that his niece rarely turned down a meal.
"Not hungry," Mika grunted and continued her chores.
Luca just stared at his little flaxen haired niece. She'd barely acknowledged his presence since he'd arrived, lost in her own thoughts. I wonder if she realizes that she's already cleaned that pen. Better still, should I tell her? He considered idly. Nope, I like my head attached.
Walking out to the cook fires he stopped dead in his tracks, his jaw dropped as realization struck him. Cant sleep, cant eat, distracted, short tempered…No it couldn't be. He thought disbelieving. She couldn't be…she would never……….she couldn't be………..in love? Ha! Not likely, snorting derisively at the idea he walking off to find his breakfast.
Erin's day dragged on at a snails pace. She had taken her lunch with Shea and played cards with Harold. She had sorted out which gowns she would need for the ball and dinner with Pippa's help. She even took a walk in the palace gardens and wandered the vast halls and passageways of the castle. This was done with a purpose however figuring if she were going to leave the grounds again it would be best if she had a better knowledge of the layout. She had managed to avoid yet another dinner with the noblewomen by pleading a headache and promising to take to her bed early.
Now she sat on her bed listening to the sounds of Shea making ready to leave for the evening. By God the woman dawdles. Her impatience getting the better of her, as it seemed to take her aunt forever to get herself out the door. It'll be after dark b'fore I get out o' 'ere. Her excitement at the thought of seeing the little gypsy woman rose. In truth she had been feeling a warm tendril of excitement all day but now the warmth was threatening to become on inferno. Most disturbing was that it seemed to settle in her loins. Erin was troubled by the feelings that were coursing through her and with the intimate thoughts she was having of the fiery blonde, she was unsure of the reasons behind her burgeoning attraction. Attraction? Nay…just …affection...fer a new friend, she argued, but the argument sounded hollow even to her. Oh Damn!
Shea finally called out to tell Erin she was leaving which shook the confused woman from her contemplation. Once she heard the door close she jumped from the bed and ran into the sitting room. Grabbing up her shawl and purse she slowly opened the outer door. Carefully looking up and down the corridor to ensure she would not be seen, she slipped out, closing the door quietly behind her. Erin hurried down the hall to the back steps unaware of a figure lurking in the shadows behind her.
Shea stepped from around the corner and watched the retreating back of her niece. "Ha! Now we'll be seein what yer up ta Erin McGorry," she whispered in the darkness. "I hope Milly's boy can keep a good eye on her," the redhead thought idly as she made her way to, what she was sure, would be a very dull dinner.
Mika stood with Luca at the edge of the stage watching Taimo, the trained bear, wrestle with one of the other Romany men; the crowd loved it. They had sent young Bera into the crowd to take the bets that were being made on either man or bear. A profitable scheme considering they could always throw the result in their favor.
Every so often Mika would scan the crowd looking for the tall dark figure of the noblewoman. She fidgeted nervously moving from foot to foot. What's the matter with me? Her pulse was racing, palms were sweating and her stomach was more then a bit upset. This needs to stop!
How do you propose to do that? The voice retorted.
I just need to see her.
Well that's an obvious given considering your current state, the voice interrupted.
If I see her, then I'll know that I'm not really attracted but just, her words trailed off as she searched for her meaning.
Just what? Just dreaming, lusting...Oh wait! I know…she just…got to you, the voice howled with laughter.
Mika, still hearing the obnoxious laughter echoing in her head almost missed the tall form moving toward her. Before she even realized it, Erin was standing right before her, smiling at the distracted woman.
Mika looked up and blue eyes locked on green and everything she had been trying to push down came thundering back. The sudden onslaught of emotion and resurfacing of the passionate dreams she had experienced because of this woman rocked her. Liquid fire raged through her veins as she stared at the beautiful woman before her. Mentally shaking herself she took a deep calming breath. I need to focus here.
True, but it would probably help if you weren't focusing on her breasts, it laughed.
"Hi yerself. Am I interrupting? Ya seem a bit distracted."
"No! You just … I was just lost in thought is all. You didn't have any trouble finding your way here did you?" Mika's concentration finally returned. . I probably shouldn't have let her wander over here alone. She doesn't have a clue about the dangers out here what if something were to happen to her.
You let her wander all over the square last night following after you and didn't care a wit about her safety then, the voice quipped.
That was different.
"Nay, I 'ad no trouble," Erin casually turned to see what was happening on stage. "Oh My God!" She exclaimed when she saw the 7-foot bear pick up the Romany man, lifting him from the stage. "How can ya let a man up there with that beast?" the reckless act shocked her gentle nature and fostered her outrage.
Mika laughed at the Irish beauty's astonished ire, which prompted Erin to cast an annoyed look at the little blonde. "That can'na be safe Mika."
"Actually, it is," Mika, still amused by Erin's outburst until she saw blue eyes clouded with confusion and then taking Erin by the arm she pulled her down and whisper in her ear. "The bear is tame Princess."
Warmth spread throughout Erin's body when she felt the little gypsy's lips brush softly against her ear. Almost making her miss what was said. "Tame?"
Not missing the sudden flush of Erin's cheeks nor the stammered response, Mika smiled to herself. Maybe I'm not the only one affected here. '"Yes, you see my Nano," she tried to explain about the bear but was stopped by Erin.
"Oh sorry. Ummm… Uncle," she supplied. "Anyway, Luca found him as a cub and he's been raised to do this sort of thing, don't worry its perfectly safe," hoping to reassure the woman.
Luca had been watching the tall stunning woman since she entered the stage areas. When she walked right up to his niece he was surprised, to say the least, and even more so when he saw that Mika seemed to know the woman. They do look pretty friendly. Then he saw his little niece pull the woman down to whisper something to her. Hmmmm……… wonder what that's about? He then he saw Mika laugh and point to Taimo and himself. She would never tell non-Romany our secrets. Although by her actions that seemed to be exactly what she was doing. In disbelief he looked on astonished that his, usually tight lipped, niece would share that kind of information. Unless this is why she's been so out of sorts today? Oh this I have to see, Luca laughed.
Mika watched as her Nano sauntered over to them. His handsome face lit up with a smile and his chocolate brown eyes were dancing with mischief. Don't do this to me Luca!
"You aren't filling this lovely young woman's head with tall tales about us now are you chey?" he teased her with a grin.
"No Nano, I was just telling her that she would be better served if she stayed away from Romany males," she purposefully leaned closer to Erin. "They are nothing but rogues you know," she continued in an exaggerated whisper.
Erin burst out laughing at the pair of them; their affectionate teasing warmed her heart. "From what I've seen Romany women are'na much better," She shot back, arching a challenging brow.
"Ah! Dear lady, Romany women are sweet as can be," pointing to Mika. "Of course there are exceptions to every rule."
"Hey!" Mika drawled. "I resemble that remark."
"So little one are you going to introduce me to this lovely creature? Or are we going to let her think you have no manors at all. Of course, she'll find that true enough later I'm sure."
"Oh fine! Luca this is Erin…Erin, my Uncle Luca. You better watch him, the bear is tame, he's not," pointing to the attractive man. "He bites."
"Tis' a pleasure sir," Erin laughed.
Luca took Erin's hand and made a show of an exaggerated bow. "The pleasure is all mine sweet lady," he purred.
Mika felt herself stiffen at Luca's intentional flirting with her dark lady and with a barely muffled angry growl; she glared at him conveying her displeasure at his actions.
Whoa struck a nerve did I little one? Well now I know what or rather who's had you so tied up in knots today. Not that I can blame you, she sure is a beauty. Luca stepped back and let go of Erin's hand. "I'm harmless I assure you Erin," his sincerity not quite reaching his eyes. "A Romany must be charming to all beautiful women...it's in the rules," he deadpanned "Come M'Lady," offering Erin his arm. "Let me introduce you to the star of our show," Erin took the proffered arm allowing Luca lead her to the stage, leaving Mika behind to glare at the departing pair.
Erin listened politely as Luca described the training process and expounded on his various other accomplishments. She nodded and smiled and even laughed at some of his remarks. All the while feeling the distance Mika had put between them and herself. She saw the little blonde standing off to the side away from them, scanning the crowd. She does'na seem interested in 'aving me 'ere tonight, her insecurities taking hold. What if I pushed 'er into this? Did she arrange to 'ave Luca come to take my attention from her? Erin felt a great despair settle over her.
Mika watched the pair as they laughed and chatted amiably about the show. All the while she seethed as Luca reached out to touch her dark lady. If he touches her again I'm going to break his fingers.
Jealous? The voice questioned.
He…he…. She came here to be with me!
Well you have to admit they make a remarkable pair, the voice observed.
Mika observed the two, both tall and dark. They do look good together. I don't know what I was thinking. She's never going to be interested in me. Hell she is far to innocent to even consider the idea, Mika looked down at the ground feeling dejected.
Erin lost interest in Luca's company only minutes after they had started talking. I do'na want ta be with him. If she thinks she'll be getting rid o' me after all I did to get 'ere then she's got another think comin. I do'na know why I feel like I do but I'm damn well goin to figure it out. And you, my little gypsy, are goin to help me she grinned wickedly.
Luca knew he had lost the woman's attention. Ah seems my little one isn't the only one with an interest here. I suppose I should be a gentleman and give in gracefully. But it has been fun to see the little rogue sweat and this Irish lady is a stunner, a bit to young but a beauty. You are a lucky little devil Mika. He thought happily.
"Mikayla! As much as I've enjoyed entertaining this lovely young woman I do have other…ummm…things…to attend to," he gave them a devilish leer. "So many women, so little time," throwing up his hands in mock exasperation.
Mika's heart soared at the comment. He's not interested in her! Relieved that she didn't have to compete with her dashing Uncle. I hope that doesn't disappoint her. Quickly casting a sideways glace at the bright face of the beautiful lady, she notice a flicker of relief cross over her striking features. A genuine grin broke on her face and she moved closer to the pair coming to stand at Erin's side.
Erin felt the little blonde move to her side and relaxed into the safe warm feeling. The smile gracing the little gypsy's face made her giddy with relief. She does want to be with me! Unable to help herself she leaned closer basking in the heat radiating from the smaller body.
The nearness of Erin's body threw Mika's senses into overdrive. Her heart thudded in her chest so loudly she was sure the other two could hear it. God she drives me crazy just being close, awed by her reaction.
After a few minutes more, Luca excused himself and left to attend to Taimo, leaving the girls in an awkward silence. Finally the tension broke with the sound of Mika's stomach protesting its empty state and both women burst out laughing.
"I think ya should probably feed that thing," Erin teased.
"Does seem a bit unhappy doesn't it? Come on Princess let's get something to eat," taking Erin by the hand she walked her down the narrow streets. Erin followed closely behind holding tight to Mika's warm hand, loathed to let it go. After deciding on what they wanted they headed to the tree they had eaten under the night before. So lost in being together neither of them noticed a figure following them in the shadows.
"Yer Uncle seems a nice man," Erin hoped to start some sort of conversation.
The comment made Mika wonder if Erin really might be interested in Luca, more than just casually. The mere thought tugged at her heart and she had to swallow hard forcing down her food. "Yea," she managed a choking whisper.
Taking in Mika's sullen attitude, Erin's still rampant insecurities hit her and she was struck again by the idea that Mika really didn't want to spend time with her. She's just humoring me. The thought of not being with the young gypsy tore at her heart and she knew she wouldn't force her to stay. "You do'na 'ave ta entertain me," her voice quavering. "I know ya must be wantin ta do other things. I did kind o' force myself on ya," turning away so Mika couldn't see the tears forming.
Mika stared at the dark head of the Irish lady she saw slender shoulders shudder. Oh God!
Look what you've done. You made her cry, it tsked. She's here with you and you're just being a jackass. The voice continued its lecture.
Yea she's here with me but I think she would rather spend time with Luca.
Are you really that stupid? The voice shouted. She made her way out of the palace, came all the way through the market square, alone mind you, to see you! Why she'd want to spend time with you I have no idea. But here she is and all you're doing is ignoring her because your pride is hurt.
Damn! I hate when you're right, Mika responded.
Mika rose to her knees in front of Erin and gently cupped her chin she turned the beautiful face to her. Blue eyes were bright with tears and Mika's heart shattered. "Oh hey now Princess, none of that," wiping the tears from Erin's eyes. "I've been waiting all day to see you and we're not going to waste time crying are we?" Mika gently arched a questioning brow. Her green eyes never leaving Erin's.
Erin blushed a little embarrassed by her tears and her assumption that Mika didn't want to be with her. The sweet gentle coaxing the little blonde was plying her with soothed her heart and her face brightened.
Damn, she's adorable when she blushes.
Wonder how far down that blush goes? The voice idly commented.
Mika had to shake the lustful thought from her head. Stop that!
"I'm sorry. I din'na think ya really wanted ta spend time with me," Erin rushed out and looked away shyly.
"Oh I can see where you might think I would want to spend my evening with a smelly walking bearskin rug and my ever so charming Nano rather than with a beautiful, charming woman," Mika teased. "I umm thought maybe being in Luca's company was more to your liking," she admitted.
"He's a handsome charming man but I din'na come 'ere ta be with him," looking into Mika's deep green eyes she caught the delighted spark that filtered through them and ……something more. "Ya really are a rogue…ya know that right?"
"Yup, I know that," Mika winked. Stretching her body out on the ground beside Erin she folding her arms behind her head and crossed her feet. "So what did you want to do tonight Princess?"
Erin swallowed hard at the sight of the tight, muscular body next to her, wanting nothing more than to lie down and curl into Mika's strong arms. She felt a stirring deep in her belly and pooling moisture in her center and any misgivings she had about what this woman meant to her were gone. I'm attracted to her. The revelation did not exactly surprise her. Na' just attracted but needing, wanting…Oh God! I'm will'n ta bet this will'na go over well with Shea. She could almost hear the redhead having a fit now. Giving into the temptation to be closer to the little gypsy, Erin stretched out beside her and leaned up on her elbow to look down into the sweet cherubic face of her rogue.
God she's so close I could kiss her! Mika's heart beat faster when she saw blue eyes darken and a pink tongue sweep across soft lips. Mesmerized by the sight she leaned in closer but a soft gasp from the raven beauty brought her from her trance. Oh God! What am I doing?
You were going to kiss her. The voice kindly pointed out.
Mika jerked back suddenly, flustered by what she had been about to do. With her blood racing and hands shaking slightly as she ran them through her hair she tried to calm herself. "Ummm… Maybe we should see some of the other acts tonight," hoping Erin hadn't realized she had just about kissed her.
She was going to kiss me! Why did she stop? Erin went from excitement to sadness when she realized it wouldn't be but she had desperately wanted to feel those warm soft lips on hers. Damn! With the moment broken and her frustration high she stood and nervously straightened her dress. Again she stared into the bright green eyes that held a spark of something she didn't quite recognize but it sent an intense rush of heat that spread through her loins. She sighed deeply longing to go back to the moment before.
Oh this is not going to be easy, both groaned for different reasons, as they set off to explore the square.
They walked around the square, taking in several of the other stage acts. Musicians and bards, tumblers and jugglers all playing to the audience and Mika reveled in Erin's laughter at the antics of some of the players. Seeing it all through eyes still filled with innocence and wonder. Occasionally Erin would touch her, pointing out something new and her heart would race again. They would brush against each other casually while crowded in by some stage and her body would throb with unreleased tension. On the whole not an unpleasant experience she decided but all of it serving to build her frustration. But it wasn't just her own frustration that disturbed her most. All of her keen senses were on alert she knew there was something making her uneasy and anxious, like being watched.
When Erin observed the little blonde search the crowd for the third time in fifteen minutes, she decided it was time to find out what was going on. Tugging at Mika's sleeve to get her attention. "Mika," the crowd around them was dense and loud. "Mika," she tried again. Finally, tired of being ignored she yelled. "Mikayla!"
Mika jerk around at the sound of her name and fully expecting to find her Daj standing beside her. When she was met with Erin's smiling face she couldn't help but grin wickedly. "Princess I kind of like the way you scream my name," she purred watching Erin blush bright red. Why did I say that? I need to start thinking before I talk. She's going to run straight home to Momma if I keep this up.
Or maybe next time she screams it'll be while she's…" the voice started.
Shut Up! Mika's mind screamed out but not before she was struck by the conjured image.
Erin laughed "Rogue," hoping Mika would continue the teasing flirtation and frustrated yet again as she watched the fair woman clamp down on her emotions and knew there would be no more of that, at least, na yet. "Want ta tell me what's got ya so distracted that ya 'ave ta keep looking around every few minutes?" She pouted.
God she's adorable. Have I ever thought anyone was adorable? No…but then none of them were Erin McGorry either. She breathed a deep sigh and then remembered the question. Taking Erin by the hand she led them to a quieter place.
" I'm not sure but I think we're being followed."
Erin stiffened. "What?" stunned she absently moved closer to Mika.
"Haven't spotted who yet Princess but I know when I'm being watched and my Romany senses are on overload," sensing the taller woman's discomfort she gave a gentle reassuring squeeze to the hand in hers. "Now the way I see it we've got two choices. First, I find whoever it is and beat the bloody hell out of him," she grinned. "Or two, we can try and ditch him."
"No fighting Mika, please," Erin pleaded, her fear for the young gypsy made her heartsick.
"Well then looks like plan B, we ditch him." But if I see him I'm going to find out why he's following us.
The decision was made and they worked their way through the crowd once again. This time, staying as close to the largest gatherings of people they could find. They weaved in and out of the crowds, ducking between stages and booths. They switched alleyways several times until finally they ducked behind one of the pubs along the south wall of the city.
Erin sagged against the wall with her heart pounding while she tried to catch her breath. Gazing at Mika from beneath hooded eyes she took in the sharp, bright green eyes and wild, wind blown hair. She had a faint sheen of sweat covering her face and Erin thought she had never seen anything look as beautiful. My wild, untamed gypsy. A now familiar ache again made its presence known.
Mika knew they hadn't lost their shadow and came up with a new plan. She isn't going to like this. "Erin," her tone hushed as she turned to face the woman. In the moonlight she caught a glimpse of blue eyes darkened with desire. No! She's just afraid. Mika pushed down her thoughts. But it was to late, her body tightened and her breathing became ragged. The need to touch the woman was almost unbearable and she forced her hands into her pockets to keep them from shaking. Closing her eyes she let her head fall back against the tavern wall…hard; hoping the pain would jar her from her lustful thoughts.
"Mika?" Erin suddenly concerned when she heard the thump. "Are you alright?"
"Yea Princess I'm fine," she lied. No! I'm not all right! And if she doesn't stop looking at me like that I'm going to do something we're both going to regret. "Look we still have our shadow, so I think we need to split up. That way I can tell which of us he's really following," hoping to change the subject.
"No! I will'na leave ya alone. What if he's dangerous? No, please do'na ask me this?" pleading both fear and concern etched on her pretty face.
Mika took Erin's hands in her own "Hey Princess, I'm not going to get hurt. I promise I'll be right behind you. Just go back to the stages and stay close to Luca. You'll be safe there till I can figure this out," she soothed. "Now go, so we can get on with our night," she grinned saucily.
"Promise me ya will'na do anythin foolish," Erin begged.
"Me?" Mika feigned innocence. "Okay, Okay I promise. Now go," she urged.
Erin straightened herself and started around the corner, she stopped and turned quickly placing a kiss on Mika's cheek then rushed out into the square. Mika stared after her, stunned, a huge grin formed on her lips.
Excuse me but aren't you supposed to be doing something? The voice said peevishly.
Oh right! Shaking herself, she set off to find the person following them.
She followed behind Erin and gave their stalker enough room to maneuver between them. It was then she knew that whoever was following wasn't after her. In her heart she had felt Erin was the target all along. Kind of ironic. They had made it almost to the Romany stage where the musicians and dancers were now performing. Mika was beginning to think she would never catch their stalker but just as she rounded the next stage she caught sight of a small shadow moving quickly towards the tall Irish woman. "Oh no you don't!"
Erin reached the stage and searched frantically for any sight of Mika and her panic set in when she found nothing. Racing behind the stage and roughly edging people out of her way she finally located the large form of Luca leaning casually against the side of the stage support.
Luca saw Erin flying at him. What the Hell? "Whoa there girl," he grabbed onto her shoulders. "What's wrong? Where's Mikayla?" His concern was growing when his niece failed to appear. If the guards have her I'm going to beat my brother bloody for his stupid deal. We weren't supposed to be harassed.
"Luca, we were bein followed and Mika made me leave her so she could catch 'em but she was supposed ta just see who it was and come right after me. But she's not 'ere. Ya 'ave ta find her………Please Luca?" Erin pleaded almost in tears.
"Easy now. I'll go after her," calling one of the Romany musicians to keep an eye on Erin he took off to find out what kind of trouble his niece had gotten herself into. I know one thing little one, that girl has feelings for you and if you scare her again I'm going to beat you myself.
Mika had followed after the small figure and had about caught him when he made a sharp turn rounding another stage. Damn! She gave chase until her lungs burned but his smaller figure slipped through the crowds more easily and she finally had to give up. Need to make sure Erin's safe.
Luca had seen his blonde niece racing after a small boy and watched as the boy slipped around a corner losing Mika in the crowd. Seeing his chance, he dodged around the crowd and heading the young man off just as he ran through the people. Reaching down and deftly caught the child in one massive arm, sweeping him off his feet. He carried the squirming youngster to an empty booth near by and set the boy down on the ground. He then took the boy's small shoulders in his large powerful hands.
"Now you can give me trouble boy or you can tell me what I want to know. In the end it doesn't matter to me I will get what I want from you!" he growled.
The terrified boy stared wide-eyed at the huge dark man and swallowed loudly " I…I…I don't know what you mean sir."
"Don't play dumb with me son. I know you've been following Erin and I want to know why and you're going to tell me…now!" He shouted, hoping to scare the boy into a confession.
The boy flinched and the need to save his life became paramount to anything else he was supposed to do this night. "L…L…Lady McGorry sent me," he managed to utter. "To follow her niece. S…She thinks Lady Erin is getting into some trouble and wa...wanted me to look after h…her," the boys fear was almost palpable.
Luca was shocked. Lady Erin? A Damn noble! Good going Mika. I wonder if she even knows who this woman is? Ha! Of course she knows she just didn't see fit to tell anyone else. Now I know why she was so willing to accept this stupid plan of Corwin's. Luca's dislike of the noble classes was well known and he had often lamented on the evil nobles and their repression of the peasants. To find that Erin was one of the people he disliked most was disconcerting. Damn! Damn! And I like that girl too. Images of Mika and Erin flickered through his mind he saw the soft looks they shared, the gentle teasing. There's something between them even a blind man would see it. They should have a chance to explore whatever it is. But that's not going to happen if this meddling bitch of an aunt gets in the way. Then a wicked gleam came to his eye as a plan formed in his mind.
"Her aunt you say huh boy? Are you supposed to go back and tell this witch what her innocent niece has been up to?" He sneered and his evil smile deepened when the boy nodded.
"Well she hasn't been up to anything…yet. But it's just a matter of time," he winked at the boy. Letting go of the youngsters shoulder he slung an arm around the lad, "Just between us men, it won't be long now though. She'll fall to my charm. Erin is a fine looking woman and rich to boot. What more could a self-respecting Gypsy want? Don't you worry son…I'll take real good care of Lady Erin. Wouldn't want anything to happen to my little prize now would I?" He laughed wickedly.
He let loose of the boy and watched as the lad took off running far and fast. There you go you old bat. Now you wont pay such close attention to what's' really happening to your niece. He walked on pleased with himself whistling happily as he set off to make sure everything was alright with his girls
When Erin finally caught sight of Mika heading through the crowd she pushed her way nearer and launched herself at the blonde; wrapping long arms around her small muscular frame. Mika was shocked at suddenly having an arm full of tall, dark and beautiful yet unable to help herself, she took advantage of the situation and pulled Erin closer. She buried her face in the long graceful neck and felt skin so soft it was all she could do to keep from planting soft warm kisses along the exposed throat. She ran her hands over Erin's slender back, desperate to explore more of the lithe body molded to hers. Oh not good. She groaned suffering silently. I need to stop this.
"Hey Princess? Air is becoming an issue," she chuckled.
Erin was loath to let go of the firm, warm body against hers and what had started as relief had quickly turned to arousal. Her body was throbbing and hard; yearning to understand and explore the reaction this beautiful woman generated in her. Reluctantly she stepped back from Mika but still kept her arms wrapped around the smaller woman.
"I was worried," Erin's voice was husky with emotion.
"I'm okay Princess. The little creep got away from me though. Maybe we ought to get you back to the palace, I'm not sure it's safe for you out here." Mika suggested.
Erin's grip on Mika tightened, "Please! Na yet Mika, I want ta spend some more time with ya. When the tournament starts I may na be able ta see ya as often and I do'na want ta give that up yet," she pouted.
Mika sighed and knew she was going to give in to her dark haired enchantress. "Erin we need to talk. Come on let's find someplace quiet," She took Erin's hand and led her through the crowds. They walked in silence until they reached a small bench outside the palace gates.
Erin followed but silently fretted about what Mika had to say and her panic rose another notch when she noticing that she had led them right back to the castle. Please, do'na let her send me away.
Once she had Erin seated Mika began to pace. "Look Princess, I don't know how but in the last two days you went from being my stalker to being my…friend." And you'd be much more if I let myself go that far. "But it's not safe for you out here and what happens when they figure out you've been sneaking out of the castle to see me huh?" She questioned gently. "Erin I don't want you to get into trouble. I know you don't want to stay in there with them and I know this is all new and exciting for you but you don't belong out here. You deserve fancy dresses and big parties and food you don't eat off a stick," grinning she dropped down to her knees in front of the very sullen Lady. "You're so much more then this Princess," she whispered, brushing long dark hair from the woman's face. God this is breaking my heart.
After a long moment Erin looked up from the ground and with her eyes blazing she jumped up from the bench. "Now ya listen ta me," she hissed angrily. "I'll na be 'aving ya tell me where I belong and who I can be with or what ya think I deserve! Ya may na 'ave noticed, but I'm a grown woman!"
Oh I noticed. Mika thought as she let her eyes wander over the very feminine body before her.
"I've spent all my life doin what others 'ave asked o' me and this one time I'm goin ta do what I want. And if ya do'na want ta be a part o' that then fine. I'll na force ya ta, but I will be comin' back and I will do as I please Mikayla. There's na' a thing anyone can do to stop me!" Erin ranted.
Mika was helpless as she watched all the frustration and anger pour out of the beautiful woman. Her heart started beating faster, her blood hot and wild rushing through her veins as she sat awed by the passion and fire coming from her dark huntress. The raven hair tumbling over her shoulders, blue eyes dark with rage and some other emotion Mika would not name. It was the something else that held Mika's attention though. Erin's body was taut like the string of a bow and all Mika could imagine was what she would look like moving under her with her head thrown back and her body arching in release.
No longer in control of her body she gave over to her own lust and need. She grabbed Erin around her trim waist and pulled her tight against her aching body. She slid deft hands through the black silk tresses and closed the distance between them. She roughly captured the soft mouth with her own and poured her passion into the willing vessel beneath her onslaught. She moved her tongue across Erin's lips begging entry in to her warmth and a soft tongue ran teasingly along hers. They both groaned as passions flared and the kiss became more demanding, neither relenting until finally the need for breath was the only thing that separated them.
Stepping back Mika looked at Erin, her eyes glazed with passion. "You win Princess," she then turned and left Erin standing at the gate.
Erin smiled and touched her passion-stung lips. She kissed me. She thought giddily as she ran for the palace gate.
Continued in Part 3
The Athenaeum's Scroll Archive